So it’s a new year? Serious question. I’m not really sure. Anyway, we’ll get right in to the music. I don’t know if I’ve ever explained how I pick songs for the Grapevine. Like most people searching for new music, I go through reviews and articles in print magazines and online magazines/fanzines. I try to avoid the writer’s opinion on whether the band is ‘good’ and look for a description of the band’s music. If it sounds interesting, I’ll write down the band and album’s name. After I have a few on the list I’ll start listening to them, usually looking for YouTube clips on the tablet using headphones. I don’t really do ‘reviews’. If I don’t like the song, I’m not going to write about it. I tend to pick songs that have been viewed less to highlight lesser known bands. I also want to voice a concrete reason why I like a particular song. I guess all that brings us to the specific point about this month’s songs. I tend to be real interested in how a song is mixed – especially where instruments are placed in the stereo field. A lot of this month’s song’s appeal to me was in the stereo mix. Which is why I originally listen to the songs using headphones. Sooooo…… if you don’t get to listen to these songs with headphones or a pair of stereo speakers the mix tricks won’t be as obvious. That being said, let’s take a listen………
First Up: Mamalarky – ‘Drug Store Model’
The first thing to hit me as soon as the song started was………..good guess – the stereo mix. It starts with a guitar panned to the right. The vocals, bass and drums come in and get placed in the center of the mix. The drums are spaced wider across the field to give it the feel of standing in front of a ‘live’ kit. The keyboard comes in on the left side of the mix. All the instruments are pretty crisp, so you pick each out of the mix. The instruments have a bunch of little riffs they do between chords. Sometimes they play the same riff, sometimes it’s different. That and a good, strong snare beat keeps the song bopping along, toe tapping. The vocal floats on top. This is the type of song where the cadence of the vocals is as important as the notes you sing. At the 2:00 minute mark the tempo starts to slow down until it comes to a complete stop. The song comes back for another 30 seconds of instrumental to the end. It’s an neat little way to end the song rather than another straight verse/chorus. It’s the little things that often make a song stick with you.
Next Up: Kacy & Clayton and Marlon Williams – ‘Plastic Bouquet’
This song caught me for a few reasons, starting with the recording. The recording was done perfectly for the song. Very simple: two guitars, vocals and a simple beat for the percussion. Again, speaking of sound placement in the mix, some good choices. The guitars are panned a bit to the left and the right with the more ‘active’ guitar being on the left. This separation allows you to hear each guitar part. It also allows you to mix the vocals down the middle so they are the featured instrument in the mix. The recording strives to highlight the lyrics, and I would definitely consider this a lyric centered song. After I heard the song I was driving and couldn’t help but notice a number of places that had ‘shrines’ on the side of the road where people had lost their lives in car accidents. Which to me means that the song/recording had succeeded in it’s purpose. It caused me to pay attention to something I would normally drive by without noticing. There’s also some really tasty acoustic guitar playing. Enough so that’s it’s noticeable, but not so much that’s it’s distracting. The feel is enhanced by the song being played in ‘waltz’ (3/4) time. ‘Country/Folk’ style song writing at it’s best.
Finally: Lee Paradise – ‘Boogie’
So let’s finish up with something completely different. This is music to dance to. At least I would love to hear this if I was out on the dance floor. To make this song work you have to start by getting the basic electronic dance beat right. A good solid couple of recording tracks that include electronic drums where the kick drum sound is king and you work the sound of a snare and hi hat as well as some repetitive keyboard sounds around it. The other sounds you put in are the icing on the cake. These other sounds are the ones that tend to float around in different areas of the stereo field. But they’re important to make the song stand out from other ‘dance tracks’ since a lot will have the same tempo and even the same electronic drum beat. In ‘Boogie’ this would be vocals that come in and out and especially the electronic bass sound that adds bottom end. I also like that the song is kept to a reasonable length – a little over three minutes. The length keeps the song from being too drawn out if you’re listening to it when you’re just lounging at home listening to a bunch of different styles of music (which tends to be what I do). There might be a ‘club’ version that would be at least twice as long. Yes, yes another black lights and incense song.
Retro: Steppenwolf – ‘Monster/Suicide/America’
I’ve always been a big fan of Steppenwolf. I’ll probably do another Retro Steppenwolf song in the future just to discuss the musical parts of a favorite song (like one of the best crunchy, fuzzy, ‘sloppy’ guitar tones of all time). I was listening to a Steppenwolf album the other day and this song came on. I was sitting in the recliner with headphones on. I listened to the lyrics. Hmmmm. Looked at the release date. 1969. That’s weird. Listened to it again. Weeeeellllluuuummmmmm. OK. So 52 years have passed. Lyrical time machine to 2020?